Ninth ranked Tennessee survives major scare
KNOXVILLE, Tenn-Jalen Hurd recovered quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ overtime fumble in the end zone and No. 9 Tennessee overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to escape with a 20-13 victory over Appalachian State on Thursday night.
Tennessee faced third-and-goal from the 2 when Dobbs ran to his right and lost control of the ball as he tried to stretch his arms across the goal line. Hurd won the scramble for the loose ball in the end zone to give the Volunteers their only lead of the night.
Micah Abernathy ended the game by breaking up a pass into the end zone on fourth-and-5 from the 20.
“On a night where just about everything and anything went wrong, we found a way to win,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Appalachian State nearly pulled off another shocker nin years to the day after the Mountaineers stunned No. 5 Michigan in one of the greatest upsets in college football history.
“It’s definitely heartbreaking,” said Appalachian State’s Marcus Cox, who rushed for 115 yards. “I feel like we put ourselves in position to win, and we just didn’t capitalize when we should have.”
The Vols tied it on Dobbs’ 67-yard touchdown pass to Josh Malone with 10:30 left in regulation. Appalachian State’s Michael Rubino, who earlier missed an extra point, was wide right on a 42-yard field goal attempt with 5:24 remaining.
Rubino’s miss wasted a 57-yard punt return by Jaquil Capel that gave Appalachian State the ball at the 28.
Tennessee entered the season with its highest ranking since 2006 after winning its final six games last year, but the Volunteers looked nothing like a Top 10 team Thursday. The Volunteers committed two turnovers and lost linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin to a targeting penalty in the first half as Appalachian State built a 13-3 lead.
“I’m never going to apologize for a win, guys,” Jones said. “I think we’ve learned around here wins are pretty hard to come by.”
Cam Sutton fumbled on a punt return and Appalachian State’s Alex Gray recovered at Tennessee’s 36 to set up the first touchdown, a 5-yard keeper from Taylor Lamb barely four minutes into the game. Appalachian State’s other touchdown came in the second quarter on a 33-yard completion from Lamb to Cox.
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers had lost by at least 28 points in each of their six meetings with Power Five teams since that Michigan game, but they showed Thursday that they could compete with college football’s big-name programs. Appalachian State refused to get pushed around and kept Tennessee’s offense out of the end zone for the first 49 1/2 minutes.
Cox, who has rushed for over 1,200 yards each of the last three years, showed he can run effectively against any tam from any conference.
Tennessee: The Vols vowed they weren’t overlooking Appalachian State and weren’t distracted by sky-high preseason expectations, but something was clearly missing Thursday. Tennessee didn’t bear any resemblance to the team that ended the 2015 season on a six-game winning streak.
The biggest question surrounding Tennessee during the offseason was whether it could add efficiency and explosiveness to its passing attack. That area remains a major concern.
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers have their home opener Sept. 10 against Old Dominion. Appalachian State must avoid looking ahead to its Sept. 17 home game with Miami.
Tennessee: The Volunteers face Virginia Tech at the Bristol Motor Speedway. The Sept. 10 “Battle at Bristol” is expected to draw over 150,000 fans, which would mark the largest recorded attendance for a college football game.